Some days caring about the church can be overwhelming.
These are challenging days – to bring a word of grace in a moment where it seems so foreign. Grace is always foreign, but we feel it even more this summer, with our seemingly never ending cycles of anger-fueled outrage.
Every moment ripe with conflict, every event a potential carrier for our fury, every development a ready-made excuse for our preconceived commitments and identities to spark a full-scale fire.
And yet, into all this comes the demand for a word. Not a day goes by when I don’t read or receive the ultimatum – the church has to speak, the church has to call for change, the church has to have something to say. Whatever else it does, it has to speak about this.
The word demanded isn’t a neutral word, of course, but one of self-justification. We are asked for a word that will support one side while hammering the other one, a word that emboldens their stance while calling their enemies to account, a word that allows them to rejoice while calling their opponents to repent.
On the one hand, they’ve got a point, because the Gospel isn’t neutral. If you doubt that, go back and read your Bible. And too many times the church has stood by watching while other groups did the faithful work of justice. Even worse, too often we’ve taken the wrong side, opposing God’s side, decisions for which we are still paying and still repenting.
But on the other, the word we’ve been given isn’t one of condemnation – “For I was not sent to condemn the world,” we remember Jesus saying.
And so, our agenda isn’t in deciding the winners and losers. Our word ins’t condemnation, but instead is transformation.
We don’t find our joy in issuing press releases or voting guides, as tempting as they might be. We find it in helping people become like Jesus. We rejoice in watching God transform people into the men and women they were created to be.
We don’t measure our success by the length of our sermons or the intensity of our outrage, but instead by the ways in which the people we meet live their lives more fully in line with the teaching, the way and the life of Jesus.
Our work is to create the conditions and become a place where people can experience and be changed by an encounter with God’s grace. And that’s why we do the things we do.
We gather to worship because we actually believe what Jesus said that when we gather he is among us. We welcome kids and adults into our fellowship through baptism because those promises tell us who we are. We say the words of the Creeds and pray like Jesus taught us because these words reminds us who created us and what we are made for.
We study the Bible because when we discover our story is actually part of this larger story, everything is different. We serve people because we know that when we serve them, we are actually serving Him. We take the gift of bread and dip it in a cup because we have come to know that some how and some way when we do it we are meeting God, and when we come face to face with God, everything can change.
We call these things the means of grace, because these are a few of the ways that God has met us in the past and we trust will continue to do again and again and again.
And so when I get weary of the conflict and find myself ready to fire away on this day’s occasion for outrage, I’m reminded that’s not why we’re here. We aren’t here to decide who is right and who is wrong. We aren’t here to elevate ourselves as the moral authority.
Our task is a whole lot more difficult than that but so much more rewarding.
Our way is to offer the means of grace, to become a place where people can experience and connect with the grace of God and find a better path – a way to become different, to be changed by grace, to become more like the One they came seeking in the first place.